Loyalist bludgeon gangs on the prowl

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There is growing concern in the north of Ireland over threats and attacks by loyalist gangs ahead of the summer marching season.

Two separate incidents this week saw violent attacks by loyalists armed with bats and cudgels.

The attacks come just over a month after loyalist paramilitaries, including the UVF, made a joint statement distancing themselves from criminality.

In County Antrim, four men armed with nail-studded bats attacked a man in an assault which is linked to the unionist paramilitary UVF.

The gang attacked the man in his flat in Larne on Monday evening. The victim was left requiring hospital treatment for a head injury and several puncture wounds.

Sinn Fein representative Oliver McMullan asked the UVF leadership to stop the violence.

“What the UVF in Larne are doing is the complete opposite of what their leadership said they want to do,” he said.

“This needs to stop. What kind of animals were behind this? It’s time that the leadership of the UVF comes out publicly to say they completely condemn this.”

In Derry, a loyalist gang armed with a sledgehammer and smaller hammers attacked three men in the Waterside area of the city. The PSNI said there was “a potential link to loyalist paramilitaries”.

With tensions rising again ahead of a summer of sectarian parades, loyalist flags and bonfires, there are renewed concerns over the potential for political violence.

Nationalists in east Belfast awoke this week to find a range of UVF and UDA flags placed along a ‘shared space’ under the cover of darkness earlier this week, before being taken down the next day.

The flags appeared outside homes in Cantrell Close which were part of the Stormont Executive’s `Together Building United Communities’ programme. Last year four Catholic families were forced to flee their homes following UVF threats after the same flags were hoisted in the area.

Independent nationalist councillor Padraig McShane has also received a death threat from loyalists in the form of a bullet sent to him in the post. The Moyle councillor was burned out of his Ballycastle home by loyalists two years ago.

The bullet was addressed to Mr McShane at Causeway Coast and Glens council.

Derry-based republican councillor Gary Donnelly has queried the safety advice being offered to nationalist representatives in the wake of a number of attacks.

“It is worrying that elected representatives seem to be fair game for loyalists,” he said. “Everyone should be worried about this.”

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